Amade M'charek (University og Amsterdam): Tentacular Faces: Forensic Identification and the Return of the Phenotype

Amade M’charek, professor at the department of Anthropology, the University of Amsterdam, is visiting the Science Studies Colloquium. The lecture is open for everyone

Amade M'charek

Imagine a crime scene. A severe crime, say a murder case. There are no witnesses, no cctv’s, just some biological traces. Can DNA extracted from those traces give the unknown suspect a face?

Amade M'charek will address the emergent practice of forensic genetic phenotyping, i.e., the inference of visible characteristics about the unknown suspect (or victim) based on DNA. Rather than revealing the identity of a person by itself, this technology invites and draws in a public in order to gives the face colours and contours. Genetic phenotyping thus produces what she calls tentacular faces. Faces that feed on the knowledge, information and affects of this public. 

She will argue that this practice of face-making is simultaneously a practice of race-making. Even though it is aimed at the face of the unknown individual, DNA phenotyping does not produce the face of an individual suspect but that of a suspect population. It is clustering technology and race that is the most vital marker of difference therein. Scholars in the social studies of genetics have argued that race has become molecularized. Differences have become a matter of genetic markers or haplotypes. Here she want to suggest that this molecularization of race goes hand in hand with a return of the phenotype. The tentacular qualities of the face, however, indicate that the phenotype and race cannot be reduced to the body of the (unknown) person. Rather they come about in the very relation between markers that belong to a face, the public engaging with the face and markers of difference they bring to the table, as well as the context in which the face attains its tentacular qualities.


The Science Studies Colloquium Series
Published Mar. 2, 2015 3:52 PM - Last modified Sep. 30, 2015 4:33 PM